How Can I Tell If I Have Food Poisoning?

iStock.com/PhotoBylove
iStock.com/PhotoBylove

Following a salmonella scare involving uncooked turkey in 35 states, millions of Thanksgiving tables may soon be thankful they’re not experiencing food poisoning this holiday season. Provided you take proper food safety precautions, like washing countertop surfaces and cooking meat to bacteria-killing temperatures (typically 165 degrees Fahrenheit or higher), you shouldn’t have to worry about prolonged diarrhea as part of your Black Friday schedule.

Unfortunately, sometimes best practices aren’t always followed, and a cook who fails to wash up or cook food thoroughly can inadvertently spread foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that roughly 48 million people are sickened from food poisoning annually. The signs and symptoms aren’t always obvious, though. So how can you know for sure? What are the causes? What about treatment? How long will it last?

Because vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and other unpleasantries are associated with a number of illnesses besides food poisoning, it helps to look at the timeline to examine what you’ve eaten in the past day or two to see if a specific meal may have been the culprit. “The details are the key to determine if someone has food poisoning,” says Jennifer Katz, M.D., attending physician at the Department of Gastroenterology at Montefiore Health System in New York. “What food was ingested, the time period between ingestion and onset of symptoms, the number of people who ingested the food and how many became ill, and the means of preparation and storage of the suspected food are a few of the key elements.”

Germs like norovirus, salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and Campylobacter can be transmitted to humans due to improper hand-washing, food that hasn’t been heated thoroughly to kill bacteria, food that was improperly stored, or unsanitary preparation surfaces. If you’re experiencing vomiting, frequent bowel movements, cramps, or neurological symptoms like dizziness, it likely stems from something you’ve ingested within the past one hour to three days. Undercooked poultry, beef, shellfish, eggs, flour, and raw vegetables are common culprits, though you can ingest illness-causing bacteria in a variety of other ways: from kids, from travel, from health care environments, or from contaminated surfaces. If it’s not from food, though, it’s not food poisoning.

So how long does it last? “Most foodborne illness is self-limited,” Katz says. Your body will typically win the bacteria battle in a few hours to a few days, at which point you’ll probably just suffer some residual fatigue and loss of appetite.

Drinking water is the best treatment. Antiemetics or anti-diarrheal medication will slow down the body’s purging method for getting rid of the germs, potentially prolonging your symptoms. But if they don’t resolve within a few days, you might need the assistance of a physician. “One can consider seeking medical attention if they are immunocompromised, have fevers, bloody diarrhea, bloody vomiting, or are unable to tolerate any food or water,” Katz says. Children are more susceptible to getting dehydrated while vomiting and should be monitored closely.

Following a bout with food poisoning, Katz says you might be better off with low-fat meals to take it easy on your stomach. In the majority of cases, the illness will cause no lingering effects, save for an aversion to whatever it is that made you ill in the first place.

In short? If you don’t feel well and suspect a meal you’ve had in the past day or three was improperly prepared or stored, it’s likely food poisoning is the cause. Rest up and hydrate and you’ll be back to normal in no time.

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What Does 'State of Emergency' Really Mean?

Firefighters battle a state of emergency.
Firefighters battle a state of emergency.
Phonix_a/iStock via Getty Images

Local and state officials across the U.S. are declaring states of emergency in their efforts to manage the coronavirus pandemic. Some entire countries, including Italy and Japan, have also declared a state of emergency. But what does this phrase really entail?

Local and State Response

The answer varies a bit from state to state. Essentially, declaring a state of emergency gives the governor and his or her emergency management team a bit of extra latitude to deal with a situation quickly and with maximum coordination. Most of these powers are straightforward: The governor can close state offices, deploy the National Guard and other emergency responders, and make evacuation recommendations.

Other powers are specific to a certain situation. For example, in a blizzard, a governor can impose travel restrictions to clear roads for snowplows and other emergency vehicles.

Calling in the Feds

If a disaster is so severe that state and local governments don’t have the cash or the logistical ability to adequately respond, the governor can ask for a declaration of a federal emergency. In this case, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does a preliminary damage assessment to help determine whether the governor should petition the president for a federal emergency declaration.

When the declaration from the president comes through, state and local governments can get funding and logistical help from the feds. What makes a crisis a federal emergency? The list is pretty broad, but FEMA shares some criteria here.

Why Does Hand Sanitizer Have an Expiration Date?

Hand sanitizer does expire. Here's why.
Hand sanitizer does expire. Here's why.
galitskaya/iStock via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has turned hand sanitizer from something that was once idly tossed into cars and drawers into a bit of a national obsession. Shortages persist, and people are trying to make their own, often to little avail. (DIY sanitizer may not be sterile or contain the proper concentration of ingredients.)

If you do manage to get your hands on a bottle of Purell or other name-brand sanitizer, you may notice it typically has an expiration date. Can it really go “bad” and be rendered less effective?

The short answer: yes. Hand sanitizer is typically made up of at least 60 percent alcohol, which is enough to provide germicidal benefit when applied to your hands. According to Insider, that crucial percentage of alcohol can be affected over time once it begins to evaporate after the bottle has been opened. As the volume is reduced, so is the effectiveness of the solution.

Though there’s no hard rule on how long it takes a bottle of sanitizer to lose alcohol content, manufacturers usually set the expiration date three years from the time of production. (Because the product is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it has to have an expiration date.)

Let's assume you’ve found a bottle of old and forgotten sanitizer in your house somewhere. It expired in 2018. Should you still use it? It’s not ideal, but if you have no other options, even a reduced amount of alcohol will still have some germ-fighting effectiveness. If it’s never been opened, you’re in better shape, as more of the alcohol will have remained.

Remember that sanitizer of any potency is best left to times when soap and water isn’t available. Consider it a bridge until you’re able to get your hands under a faucet. There’s no substitution for a good scrub.

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